Archive for the ‘spies’ Tag

Never-ending espionage   Leave a comment

Kate Atkinson’s Transcription blends humor, to be more specific it’s dry British wit, with espionage in 1940s London.

Juliet Armstrong is recruited by M15 to transcribe the recordings of conversations among British fascist sympathizers. Juliet is an unlikely candidate for such a role. She’s only 18-years-old, naïve and completely unprepared for the job, which she discovers is a learn-as-you-go experience.

Her role soon evolves from a transcriber to that of a spy – again something for which she has neither experience nor aptitude. She is somewhat successful, however, in inserting herself among the fascists; although she faces a number of close calls and near misses of having her true identify revealed.

Ten years later, Juliet is surprised to be approached by M15 again, long after she was certain her connection with the organization was over. Though older, she retains much of her naiveté and is again thrust into dealing with espionage related to a more subtle war.

Atkinson’s characters are easy to visualize. Their proper British mannerisms and decorum, even when dealing with undercover activities, is amusing. Some conversations and situations take on a near slap-stick style, resulting in some laugh-out-loud moments. Fortunately, it’s far more subtle than pie-in-the-face action.

An element of pathos exists in Juliet’s personality based on her inability to initially recognize the control M15 has on her life.

Transcription

Four Bookmarks

Back Bay Books, 2018

339 pages, including Author’s notes and sources

A #Movement, Journalism and Truth   Leave a comment

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The phrase Catch and Kill, the title of Pulitzer Prize  winner Ronan Farrow’s account of power brokers’ abuse of women, has its roots in journalism. It refers to a media outlet obtaining the rights to a story and then letting it rot. That is, the public never sees it.

Farrow writes of his efforts to expose Harvey Weinstein who used his power as a Hollywood producer to take advantage of women by promising, or at least suggesting, he would help further their careers in exchange for sexual favors. This isn’t about a singular or a few incidents; there are many, but it took Farrow’s determination to uncover the truth.

Although Weinstein is the focus, Farrow also recounts efforts by other men in similar roles to keep their secrets from surfacing. These included threats of intimidation to keep the victims of abuse silent; spies, financial payouts and efforts to kill the story – not just once but multiple times.

When Farrow began working on the story he was an investigative reporter for NBC News. The more information he obtained, including on-the-record statements from the victims, the more the was thwarted by upper management at the network. He was finally given approval to pitch the story elsewhere, which is how it came to be published by The New Yorker.

Farrow recounts the numerous fact-checking, the uncovering of documents and a general resistance to revealing the facts associated with how the story broke. He imbues the narrative with sensitivity, vulnerability, occasional humor and tenacity.

Catch and Kill
(subtitled: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to protect Predators)
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2019
448 pages (includes index)

Love and Espionage   Leave a comment

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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson addresses a shopping list of timely topics: sexism, racism, politics and the meaning of family.

The story begins with a bang: the attempted murder of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. Marie’s story is told via a journal she writes to her young twin sons. She addresses them frequently, which reminds readers they’re privy to what a mother wants her children to know. As the novel progresses, the phrase in case anything happens could be added to most sentences.

Marie kills the would-be assassin who invades her Connecticut home, takes her kids and family dog to Martinique to hide in her estranged mother’s home. Marie’s narrative recounts her youth, including that she, her older sister and their father were left in New York City by their mother who returned to her island country.

Marie is intelligent and likeable, but her sister, Helene, has more personality as portrayed through Marie’s memories. The sisters are close. Helene decides she wants to be an FBI agent when she grows up; Marie follows suit after Helene mysteriously dies. However, because of gender and race, Marie’s given little opportunity for advancement.

Then, she’s approached to help undermine the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara.

Wilkinson takes the reader back to the 1960s, mid-1980s and early 1992 when the novel begins. At times fast-paced, at others more deliberate, Marie wonders about the role she’s assigned as she gets to know Sankara. Why she’s a target is the over-riding question.

American Spy
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2018
292 pages